Introit black dog, p.4
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       Introit- Black Dog, p.4

           Oliver J Olinger
 
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  ***

  Toma sat in his hotel room, reading a book when his cell phone's Gregorian Chant ring-tone rang out at a volume that pierced the otherwise silent room. He answered quickly after checking the incoming phone number display. “Evening, Mr. Auxten... Yes, I was afraid that might happen... Well, if I had informed you ahead of time that the dog was capable of decimating entire city blocks in a supernatural blur of speed and violence would you not have declined to undertake this assignment?... If you would, please, come by my hotel and pick me up. I know where the dog is most likely headed and I know how to catch him. We'll be safe, I assure you. The mere fact that you're still alive and conversing with me on the phone should prove to you that your name is not on the dog's 'naughty' list.”

  A little while later, Paul pulled noisily into the same fancy hotel parking lot and Toma, who was already waiting for him, jumped into the car. Paul was visibly upset and Toma kept quiet. After a while, Paul's facial expression relaxed and he finally broke the silence. “Thanks for that cloth necklace thingie, by the way,” he said in a light-hearted tone, referring, of course, to the Saint Frances scapular.

  Toma laughed out loud, “No, problem. I wouldn't have let you go if you refused to take it.”

  Paul chuckled, “So, tell me more about this dog.”

  “All right... He's most commonly known as Shuck, or Black Shuck,” answered Toma, “He's from England...”

  “Yeah, I could tell by that Liverpool Beatles accent he used while vaporizing more than two dozen human beings.”

  Toma laughed again. A hearty, joyous laugh after which he added, “I'm starting to like you, Mr. Auxten. The maintenance of humor in dire straits is imperative in this line of work.”

  “Agreed, but I hope you don't expect to contract me for future gigs, 'cause I'm pretty sure this was a one-time thing. No offense.”

  “None taken,” answered Toma, his face returning to its usual dead serious expression, “but first things first. Turn left at the light please, sir.”

  After doing as he was told, Paul attempted to keep the conversation on track, “So... the dog? Old Shuck, or whatever his name is?”

  “There isn't much to tell, except that it is a supernatural creature obviously capable of incredible feats, as you've witnessed. It can sense guilt, and it acts as judge, jury, and executioner in most cases. It was once a malevolent spirit but, according to legend, it was tamed by Saint Frances while he walked the Earth. This effected a sort of re-purposing of the animal's MO to the implementation of righteous acts of harsh punishment.”

  “I guess none of the guys at that dog fight made the grade then?”

  “I doubt it. Those who sadistically force animals to fight purely for sport are generally not respectful of any of God's creations, including other people.”

  “Fair enough. Can't say I'm all that upset about it. But then why would I need this necklace thing? I might not be the greatest guy on the planet, but I know myself enough to say that I'm probably not deserving of capitol punishment.”

  “The situation was one in which the dog was lashing out in anger and attempting to escape its captors. It might have had trouble discerning the difference at the time, and if so it would have destroyed you but for the protection of 'necklace thingie,'” Toma looked ahead and raised his eyebrows, “Ah! There we go. Pull up to that chapel up there.”

  Paul drove his vehicle into the driveway of a small church that looked more like an historic monument than a fully-functioning parish. He saw a small sign posted in front of the church's ornate stained glass doors reading 'Old Saint Frances Chapel... Est. 1910.' A sudden look of understanding splayed across Paul's face. “Saint Frances, huh?” he asked.

  “Of course,” answered Toma. “Until recently, churches tended to seal a first-class relic of their patron saint within the alter during construction. In the early days of the Church, masses were celebrated on the graves of their honored dead, and the practice was retained throughout the ages via the inclusion of relics in all church altars. It just so happens that a first class relic of Saint Frances is sealed forever inside the altar of this church. Shuck would pick up that presence a hundred miles away. In the absence of orders from elsewhere, he'll default to this location. We'll find him inside the building somewhere.”

  Paul and Toma exited the car and walked up to the church doors, which Paul found to be locked when he attempted to enter the building. “Locked church doors. Seems wrong somehow, what if I wanted to pray?” he asked, sarcastically.

  “Do you?” Toma inquired.

  “No, but there's no way they could know that.”

  Toma smiled and opened the doors easily, without force and without a key. He smiled wryly at Paul, unable to conceal his pleasure at delivering so smooth a retort. Paul was utterly flabbergasted. Trying to contain his sense of astonishment he followed Toma into the church.

  “How did you…?” Paul began to ask.

  “Trade secret, boss.” Toma quoted Paul's snarky response to his own astonishment at Paul's observational prowess earlier that evening.

  Inside, a chandeliered aisle positioned between two cordons of pews gave way to an extravagantly decorated altar, shielded against the rest of the congregation by communal rails and a red velvet rope. As they approached, Paul saw what seemed to be a normal-sized black dog curled up, sleeping at the foot of the altar. Shuck's black head popped up as Toma quietly unlatched the velvet rope, genuflected, and entered the alter area. Paul instinctively froze for a second, wondering whether or not this dog's seemingly harmless, inquisitive face was to be the last thing his eyes would gaze upon before meeting a horrifically violent end... in a church, of all places. Following the example of his employer, Paul genuflected and attempted to produce a Catholic Sign-of-the-Cross. The dog snorted at him and looked up at Toma, who approached slowly, but without faltering. His outstretched, upturned hand moved smoothly under the dog's nose. Shuck took in a couple short sniffs and raised his head to allow Toma access to his throat. Toma smiled and scratched the animals throat affectionately as he gently snapped a standard, pet store collar into place around the glistening, black neck.

  “Come here.” Toma said in a quiet tone to Paul.

  Paul wore a face of pained hesitation, but slowly coaxed himself forward, towards the now harmless-looking animal. He reached out and let the dog inspect his hand for a moment. Then he ran his hand through the dog's surprisingly soft fur. Shuck raised his back in invitation to Paul's hand, and Paul smiled. After a moment, a huge, wet tongue slurped at his arm. Paul looked up at Toma and saw him smiling peacefully. “Just a dog after all, huh?” Paul opined.

  “Well, not just, but yes... he still likes the same sorts of attention that every dog enjoys,” Toma answered, “Man's best friend... or in this case, woman's best friend.”

  “What do you mean?” Paul looked a little confused.

  “Never mind. If you stick around, you'll find out.”

  Toma stepped away for a moment to grab up the velvet altar rope. The dog followed and didn't object a bit when the rope was latched to a D-ring on his new collar. The trio then proceeded to walk out of the building. Toma stopped for a moment to slip a hundred dollar bill into the poor box. As he shut the door behind them, Toma dipped his fingers in a small holy water font and crossed himself while looking directly at the crucifix above the altar.
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